Industry Outlook: Human Resources

People are a company’s greatest asset—and that makes the human resources function among the most important in an organization. From guiding culture to coping with new laws and regulations, HR leaders are on the forefront of growth and change for their companies.


Jacki Arevalo, Sweet Candy Co.

Allison Barlow, Ken Garff Automotive

Bryan Benard, Holland & Hart, LLP

Catherine Burns, Gastronomy, Inc.

Cammie Cable, Clearlink

Aaron Call, G&A Partners

Ben Graham, Major Drilling

Jackie Lohdefinck, ARUP Laboratories

Justin Nelson, Kilgore Companies

Sharron Ngatikaura, ESG

Alison Sevy, Questar

Rich Slater, Fresenius Medical Care

Dan Walker, Clyde Companies

Jeanine Wilson, Sutter Physician Services

A special thank you to Monica Whalen, president of the Employers Council, for moderating the discussion. 

Is developing the next generation of leaders within your organization one of your strategic business priorities? How can HR help in this endeavor?

AREVALO: We absolutely are developing our internal resources with regard to leadership. We’re challenged in that we make candy. It’s a plant floor. We have a multicultural environment. We have many different languages. So finding appropriate training for different language native speakers has been a challenge. But because we have such low turnover, we’re really focused on developing internally the next level of management and leadership. It’s been an ongoing focus.

BURNS: We’ve had a big change happen with our owner dying suddenly and not really having anything in place. And we have a whole lot of people who are over 55 who are in the top positions. So we have been strategically identifying people in our organization who have the potential to move into management and leadership positions. And then grooming them, passing on some of our responsibilities and turning these things over for them to take charge. The importance of that has really hit home right now. We’re bringing them along so they’re not just the managers working the floor, but they’re learning the skills, being mentored by the people that have been there longer.

BARLOW: There’s a real systematic approach to developing leadership. And when there’s clarity, people will buy into it. It really works with your performance reviews or your performance management by helping to be really clear what is expected of the leadership. And then provide them with those strong experiences that are necessary so they’re doing actual business work as they’re learning and developing. It’s a huge, huge opportunity for HR to improve the work within your organizations.

HERRING: Being in education, talent really is our business. Knowledge is really the key to our industry. But most of the talent we’re bringing in, our professors and our researchers, they’re experts in those fields, not necessarily in managing people. It’s really a combination of us bringing in that talent, but also training and developing that talent, that leadership pipeline, to give them the tools and the skills, and get the barriers out of the way for them to be able to effectively manage people.

That has really provided us an opportunity to bring a leadership development program in for that segment of individuals to try and grow that talent from within as well.

GRAHAM: We work in a very blue collar industry. We fall into the process of promoting our best technical people, but they’re often not skilled in management. But that’s where HR has to own that process. Because that’s what we do. The transactions we process for health insurance and for all these other things don’t really add value to the business. They have to be done. We have to maintain those. But it’s really in developing our people where we can prove any kind of strategic value to the company—not just be a cost center, but really be a development point.

Our company fluctuates from 5,400 employees down to 1,700. So one of our challenges is maintaining a constant level of leadership when the company fluctuates that much. It’s extremely difficult.

BARLOW: The key, though, is providing real-life experiences to help prepare them. Because what you’re saying is they’re used to being a certain kind of employee. You’ve got to involve them to be leaders. By providing them with opportunities and experiences, you get to see how they respond and you can mentor them without giving them the actual position. They can learn from their mistakes.

BURNS: When we have challenging situations that happen in our restaurants with customers or employees, we revisit those things again. Here’s what happened. Here’s what we did. But what could you have done or what would you have done in that circumstance had you been involved?

NELSON: We can have people manage, but to truly lead and have what I would call an entrepreneurial spirit—to look at the business with business eyes—that’s very hard to develop. We’ve adopted a kind of community raising-the-child mentality where everybody’s involved, from the CEO to every leader, down to that individual so that everybody knows to give experiences. Because that’s where the learning sticks, not necessarily from a book. And to help develop them and not let them plateau, where they get stuck, but keep pushing them along. It’s actually pretty successful the more people are involved. HR drives it, but we’ve got a lot of players participating in the development of our people.

NGATIKAURA: One thing I recommend to my clients is to use your performance evaluations with succession planning in mind. You should always be asking the question: What’s the next job that you would be qualified for? And even: What’s the second job that you would be qualified for? And then beyond that: What skills or knowledge do you need to gain to get there?

BARLOW: Where are the interests, too. Because sometimes we think we want to move them into the executive level, and they’re not even interested in that.

CALL: It’s really important to understand that the generation that’s coming in, those who will be our next leaders, are not very similar to the generation that currently leads. So we need to best understand the up-and-coming leaders. They don’t like the traditional performance management process. And they don’t like the traditional career path that a lot of our parents and we were accustomed to. They want to be understood. They want to know their goals are kept in mind as we plan these things out and that it’s not just an executive decision on who to promote. These people want to be part of the process, which is a little bit different from how things have traditionally gone. So as we go out and meet with clients and understand their plan for succession, that’s really our message back to them: You need to best understand your people and their goals and their development plans before you can even put these things in motion. Don’t just assume. Be very deliberate in understanding what it is they want to accomplish, not just what you want to accomplish.

WALKER: We have a very formal, strategic approach to succession planning. You have to know who is going to be moving in to replace those retiring boomers. Three to five years from now, there will be lots of changes in a lot of our companies.

One of the strategies we’re pursuing is training and career development for all. We use the word “all.” Instead of identifying those we think have the potential to grow, we give everybody a chance to tie into our Clyde University environment and find out what your potential is. Or you might be tapped on the shoulder to do something that wasn’t in your thought process. So we’ve tried to create a pyramid approach that allows every single person to tap in, to develop themselves, in partnership with their manager, so they can be ready for whatever assignment they might be tapped to do.

BARLOW: My generation believed the best way to move was up. I think we’ve got to teach horizontal movement. With millennials, it’s more about an experience, growing and developing. And it’s not always up. So it’s important to find horizontal movement, lateral movement, to give them new opportunities. And then they can see a bigger horizon of what’s possible within the organization, too.

HERRING: That’s good for not just the employee, but for the organization. Because you get a great understanding of the breadth of the organization and the integration of the organization.

How has the definition of “Total Rewards” evolved with the influence of multiple generations working together in the workplace?

LOHDEFINCK: The same things that motivate a boomer don’t necessarily motivate millennials. So it has a lot to do with how you handle your talent strategy. It has a lot to do with how you plan retention efforts. Look at what benefits are utilized, and watch how that changes over time and how your workforce changes. And then you have to be open to looking at options and being flexible where you can.

SLATER: I think our leaders currently don’t like to change benefits. They don’t want to have different work schedules for different generational groups. It’s very hard for them to change quickly. For a big company that’s almost impossible. And we’re losing good talent because they’re not going to be flexible enough. And until my group of HR leaders convinces upper management that we have to be flexible, we have to be listening to our employees, it’s going to be tough.

AREVALO: In the past, open enrollment was a giant room with a PowerPoint presentation and a bunch of people on their phones or falling asleep and not paying attention to what’s going on. So we made roundtables for benefits; we made smaller groups. Because millennials also really value conversation and community. It took a long time, we were really tired, but we had groups of 12 to 15 people, and we went through all of the benefits. And I’m fairly confident that at least 80 percent of the people understand what the benefits are, what the strategy is behind the benefits, that it’s not just to create a deduction out of your paycheck, but it’s created with you in mind. And it’s given them an opportunity to ask questions. Which I don’t think ever occurred in the past in that giant room.

We’ve taken that strategy of roundtables and integrated it throughout our departments, where they can sit down in a room for an hour and have the CEO present and listening and asking questions. Millennials really value the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas. I think that drives engagement for us.

WHALEN: Traditionally perhaps we had a perspective that work/life balance was something women wanted. Are you finding in your workplaces that men want those things as much as women?

LOHDEFINCK: Absolutely.

BENARD: And it’s cross-generational. We’re making a lot of these changes focused on millennials. But guess what? The more senior section of the employee group, they’re equally as interested. So you have to structure it so that everyone can participate. Then it actually becomes beneficial as you have members of different generations actually taking charge and benefiting from those different programs.

HERRING:  We also have to overlay life phase on this—where you are in your life and your career. And we have people working longer. There is life phase that coincides with the generations. As people progress, those wants and desires change as well.

CABLE: What I’ve found over the years is people want optionality and they want convenience. I want to work 8:00 to 5:00 and go home and not think about work again. Or I want to be VP of HR. Or I want to have onsite healthcare. It’s just expanding that out, engaging with your employees and finding out what makes sense for them. I think about some of the stuff we’ve introduced in the past two years that I honestly didn’t know if it would be a big benefit to employees, but we gave it a shot, and it’s now one of their favorite benefits.

BURNS: It used to be leave your personal problems at home, don’t bring your personal life to work, just come to work and do your job and go home. That’s not the way it is anymore. You need to know that this person has a new baby at home. And you need to know that this person is an artist who is working to support their dream. And you need to know that they’d rather be hiking up in Mill Creek Canyon with their dogs than at work. You need to find out about the people who are working for you.

How can HR maximize this trend of culture as a differentiator for your company?

WILSON: We came up with this tagline: “Do Work That Matters.” We’ve developed videos we’ve put on our website to help people understand what they’re doing matters. They’re talking to patients every day. They can save a patient’s life. The can make a patient’s life better. We imbed that into them, not only in the interviewing process, but in the orientation process.

HERRING:  Organizational self-awareness is important. I understand that some people just come into work. But if you understand that what the University is about is student success and curing cancer, and you can communicate that to everyone—I don’t care if they’re in the building department, HR, in the faculty, everything goes in towards that. It helps put the framework around what your culture is going to be and gives you those intrinsic motivators of what you are as an organization instead of just relying on your total comp benefits. This is really why we’re doing what we’re doing. And then communicating and finding people that want to share in that.

BARLOW: It’s helping people be really clear about who you are and what you’re about. In the car industry, we’re working hard to build our culture differently, too. When you say, “car industry,” people don’t think too highly of you. So our mantra is “Treat People Right.” And then you can go to bed feeling good about how you’ve treated somebody. It’s just that impact of caring for one another and bringing the concept of we’re a team instead of this dog-eat-dog world. It makes a huge difference in an industry where people jump to the latest hot car that’s selling. But to try to get some longevity and loyalty with our employees, it’s really about caring about them as individuals. And then helping them to see how important it is to care about the customer and be honest and transparent.

LOHDEFINCK: Every organization has a culture. Whether you intentionally publish it or not, you have a culture.

At ARUP, we have almost now 3,300 employees. And every day we see 55,000 specimens come through our laboratory. We make a deliberate effort to ensure everybody knows these are not specimens, these are people. This is your mom, your dad, your cousin, your best friend. There are docs waiting for that information so they can come up with the plan to help that patient. No matter what role you have in at ARUP, you are impacting someone’s life every single day, whether it’s HR, accounting. It doesn’t matter what department you’re in, you have an active role in that.

CABLE: It’s tremendous that you can say you save lives every day. But we’ve struggled. It’s really hard for me to look at our marketing or our technology employees and say, “We have meaningful work. We sell home services. We sell satellite services so people can have TV.” How do we make that work meaningful?

So all we ask our employees to do is at least care about one of three things. If they care about all three, even better. But it’s care about your craft, care about the people, care about the business. And so then they can start to find meaningful work.

It’s the first time where we haven’t had to overly communicate something, and it’s sticking. People can gravitate to it—talking about I want to be just really passionate about my craft. And when I’m here, I’m going to be the best sales person I can be, but I’m going to go home. Great.

GRAHAM: It’s such a hard balance, though, to find who you are versus who you want to be.  We’re always struggling with that, saying we’re a very blue-collar, traditional business. We help guys find gold, which benefits the mining company. But we still have to find a way to say, “Our guys are hard working and show up every day. They go home so they can play with their kids and have a good life.” We can’t try to say we’re going to be a Google. We’re not ever going to have a masseuse wondering around the office. We just have to be authentic with who we are instead of trying to promote ourselves to be something we’re not. How do we make the best version of us and not try to be somebody else?

BENARD: The flash point for culture is personal evaluation and performance. That’s the tension piece. It comes up so often in counseling employers. “You have this culture, and this employee is suggesting the way you’re treating this employee or other employees is inconsistent.”

That’s the proof in the pudding. How does your culture truly appreciate or consistently treat employees? Is it fair? Because those are the messages that your frontline, lower-level employees see. They see what the company is supporting or promoting by how they are directly treated. And that causes major ripples. Because you can’t undo a lot of those things. It just starts spreading. You might have professed culture, but if your actions are inconsistent, the majority of your employees are going to feel it and you’re not going to have the culture that you are professing to have.

How much of a concern is workplace violence in your places of business today?

WILSON: It’s not the random crazy with an assault rifle that I’m as afraid of as I am the domestic issues. We had a tragic situation where we had a young lady who worked for us and she had an abusive ex-husband. We got a call one day. She had left work at 6:00 p.m. and hadn’t been seen since. And the police came in, interviewed her friends, trying to find her. Her body was found in Colorado a couple of weeks later. Obviously that kind of event just ripples through the organization.

In a leadership meeting about two weeks after the event, we became very aware of the domestic abuse and the challenges that she had been going through. Our workforce is 80 percent female, fairly young, and we asked, “So how many of you leaders have had discussions with your employees about an abusive situation?” I would say at least 50 percent of them raised their hand. Which was a shock to me. We have a secure building. But we’ve had people get into the building who shouldn’t have. So we’re very, very tight on our security now.

CABLE: Managers play such an important role. They may or may not know about an employee’s situation, but it’s all about how they treat that employee—the dignity, the respect, compassion. “Don’t tell people to leave stuff at the door” is easier said than done. So we worry more about domestic situations than a disgruntled employee. I feel like the disgruntled employee situations happen in a lot of cases when the steps going through to the point of termination weren’t made clear. And once that’s clear, they’re like, “Man, I forgot, but I really want to be here. And I say it’s unfair, but at the end of the day, you treated me with respect.”

WALKER: Part of a great culture is being able to feel safe at work, especially in the construction environment we’re in. Our employee handbook says we will provide a safe and helpful work environment. So we exhibit zero tolerance. We give no quarter to any kind of violence, verbal or otherwise, in the workplace. You will not survive that encounter. We tell people that upfront.

We’re also very, very alert and attentive in our recruiting process when it comes to background checks. We place violence in what we call the red category. It’s just about impossible to work for the Clyde Companies if you’ve got a past history of violence. We create an environment where we want you to be safe. And then we hire people into that environment.

BARLOW: With our industry, as the labor rate goes down and there’s unemployment, scarcity happens, and at what point do you start pushing the zero tolerance? I just keep thinking in my group, “Oh, my gosh. Don’t hire that person.”

“Well, we can’t find anyone else.”

“Well, don’t hire them. Wait.”

BURNS: Try explaining to the customers why there are empty tables in the restaurant and we’re not seating them.

AREVALO: We have the identical situation right now. And if we don’t have enough people to staff a line, we’re going to shut that line down. And that’s expensive.

So we’ve had a few instances where we had co-worker conflict that has escalated beyond my comfort level. And the supervisor is like, “I can’t shut this line down.” So we’ve had to face that issue occasionally and look at zero tolerance and what does that really mean? Where’s the line in the sand for us? On more than one occasion, we’ve brought them both in my office and said, “Look, is this the environment you want to create at work?” And kind of let them drive the conversation a little bit. And I felt a little bit like a parent. But that’s kind of what you do, right? Create a safe place hopefully. And in both situations we were lucky enough to have a really good result.

Obviously it wasn’t super physical violence. I was comfortable enough to have this conversation with these two guys in my office. I don’t think it’s easy to be really cut and dry.

WALKER: You all see our trucks on the road. I’m talking about the 80,000-pound dump trucks and double bellies. Tell me if you want me to have a compromising position on who I put in those trucks? There’s a line you have to draw if you want me to be safe for you. And our employees should feel that exact same way.

Utah Business fosters connection, insight and recognition for Utah’s thriving professional community. Through our events, magazine and website we highlight the ideas, innovations and people behind Utah business success stories. We are all-in on Utah—and we can’t wait to tell your stories.